What a Gift Can’t Do

We’re getting down to the last few days of Christmas shopping and now, some of you guys are starting to panic. What are you going to get her now? What does she really want?

Now, add to this panic a heaping helping of guilt. Your job was a little more demanding than usual. You were tired when you got home. Fill in your own list of reasons/excuses for why you weren’t as attentive to her or your marriage as you should have been.

Now, you’ve set yourself up for a double whammy. For one thing, you’re going to spend way more on a gift than you should. This one will kick you in January…hard!

Second, the gift won’t do what you want it to do. No gift can make up for attention you didn’t give, time you didn’t spend, or affection you withheld. In fact, the gift just may backfire on you. The expensive gift may just remind her of all of the times she felt neglected, and then, she’ll get mad all over again.

So, what can a guy do in a crisis like this?

Let me offer this suggestion. Give your wife “moments” in the coming year. I know, most of you are thinking about giving your wife more time, but moments are different from time. Time is just ticks on the clock. Moments are what you do in that time.

Here’s what you do.

Sit down together and get out your calendar. Go over your year a month at a time. Plan dates with your wife, anniversary celebrations, birthdays, vacations—all a year in advance. Pay special attention to those times of your year when you know you’re going to be extremely busy. (For example, if you’re a CPA, this would be tax time). Plan something before you get busy and plan something to celebrate the end of your busy season. You can do the this for your whole family, but for this exercise, just focus on your marriage.

You’ll accomplish a couple of things by doing this:

1. You’ll make your wife the priority of your time. After all, you planned your time with her first.
2. You will give her something to anticipate. Remember being a kid at Christmas? Waiting for it is half the fun.
3. You won’t have to worry about it for an entire year. It’s already on your calendar.

Yeah, I know. This doesn’t sound very romantic, but sometimes you get the feeling and then you act. Other times, you act and the feeling comes later. Whether or not you “feel” like going out when the date comes up, once you get into the moment, you’ll be glad you planned ahead.

So, give it a try. Over the next few days sit down with your brand new, mostly empty 2017 calendar and plan your special days. Let me know how it works out. Something tells me, if you do this, Christmas will be a lot easier for you next year!

Merry Christmas!

The Power of Focus

“Pay attention!” “Eyes on the board!” “Where’s your head?”

I heard all of these (and many more!) when I was growing up. I had (OK, have) a very short attention span. Focusing on anything for any length of time has always been a challenge to me. If I’m going to study for a sermon, I’ve got several tricks I use to make sure my attention stays where it needs to. Some days, I’m more successful than I am on other days.

Not paying attention is a growing and dangerous problem in our culture. People drive and text. Others try to carry on conversations while they check social media. Meeting attendees check email and work on other projects while they’re supposed to be paying attention to the meeting they’re in.

One of the places this lack of attention is so destructive is our marriages. Trying to listen to your wife and watch TV doesn’t work. Listening to your husband while you scroll through Facebook actually shuts down communication. It doesn’t enhance it.

We have enough studies to know one thing for sure: we don’t multi-task well. In fact, most of us can only do one thing at a time.

And that is especially true in our marriages. We can only do one thing at a time. We can only focus on one thing at a time.

So, when it’s time to focus on your marriage, put down everything else and focus on your marriage. Turn off the TV, unplug your gadgets, and focus on each other. Look into her eyes and turn your body to squarely face each other. Listen—with your whole self—listen! Listen not only to the words, but to how the words are said. Listen not only to what words are used, but how the way they’re used changes or shapes their meanings.

You notice things when you pay attention. You pick up on small details you had overlooked before. You learn things and discover things that have been there all of the time.

Focus will do the same thing to your marriage. So, pay attention. Focus. Who knows? You may find another reason you fell in love in the first place.

Do you pay attention to your spouse?

If you’re going to buy a car, you would do a little research. You would talk to friends, read car blogs and magazines, and search the web for insights and facts about the car you wanted to drive. Coaches watch game films, not only to better understand their opponents, but to study their own strengths and weaknesses. If you were going to buy a business, you would do “due diligence.” That is, you would do the necessary research to fully understand the business and its market. No general would think of initiating an attack without doing the necessary reconnaissance.

Yet, when it comes to our marriages, we naively believe “we’ll just know” what we’re supposed to do. Let me ask you a question. Does that work in any area of your life? Then, what makes you think it will work in your marriage?

Like any good leader, we have to do the necessary research and study our spouses. I call it “Spousal Recon.”

Here’s what I mean. We should pay such close attention to our spouses that we begin to know them better than they know themselves. We know their dreams and disappointments. We should know their loves and frustrations. We should be able to tell their stories better than they can.

And yes, husbands you should know her dress size and what colors she looks best in. You should know her favorite flower and her favorite restaurant. (If you don’t know, ASK!)

Yes, wives, you should know his favorite football team and his favorite rock band. You should know what movies make him cry…and why. You should know what shirts he looks good in and understand his relationship with his dad. You should know his dreams and failures, his fears and hopes…that’s right…better and deeper than he does.

Our marriage relationship is one of the biggest investments we ever make in our lives. It’s worth a little work—a little research—a little spousal recon—in order to have everything in your marriage you looking for.

The Challenge of Change

One of the most damaging, yet common mistakes of getting married is thinking the other person will change after you get married. Most people don’t. What was once a cute little annoyance becomes a nerve-ripping fire starter when you have to live with it every day, day after day.

It’s one of the questions I ask couples during pre-marital counseling. “What is it that you hate about the other person?” Normally, people know instantly what it is about their fiancé that drives them up the wall. Then, I’ll ask another question: “Can you live with it?” Why do I ask that? Because most people don’t change, and if they do change, they don’t change much. Most of the time, what you see is what you get.

Having said that, there are those things that your spouse could do better. There are little changes, that if made, could make life a lot easier.

But here are two things we know about change. First, no one can change another person. We simply don’t have that power. Second, no one changes unless they really want to.

Ah, there’s the rub. How can we get our spouses to WANT to change?

First, we communicate what we need by taking ownership of what we’re asking.

For instance, we say, “It would help me if you did…” That works a lot better than, “You need to stop doing that!” There’s no nagging. No anger. Just a polite request for help.

Second, (and this is the fun part) we reward approximate behavior.

(I’ve stolen this insight from my professor and friend, Wade Rowatt.) Here’s what I mean. Any time your spouse gets CLOSE to the requested behavior, you celebrate. For instance, if your spouse is a slob and during the day they pick up one article of clothing, THAT’s what you celebrate! Yes, the rest of house is still a mess, but you don’t mention that. You simply tell your spouse that life is better because of that action.

Now, you’re thinking, “Mike, that won’t work. It’s silly and obvious.” Sure it is, but that’s half the point. When your husband picks up a pair of socks and you kiss him for his help, he’ll know what you’re doing, but it’ll feel so good he won’t care.

Yes, it’s a slow way to change, but it beats arguing and yelling at each other and nothing changing at all in the end.

So, give it try.

Ask for what you need, and then look for the smallest reason to celebrate.

Give it try. I’d love to hear your stories.